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RJ Center Staff, March 23 2018

ASUC Elections Spotlight: Juniperangelica Gia Cordova

By Jackie Bueno

This year, the Restorative Justice blog is highlighting candidates from both Student Action and CalSERVE, to find out what their platforms are and why they’re running for ASUC Executive positions and ASUC Senate. This week, we’re featuring Juniperangelica, a junior transfer at Cal and current Senator in the ASUC. Juniperangelica is running for President with CalSERVE. The RJ Center wishes Juniperangelica nothing but the best of luck with her campaign!

To learn more about Juniperangelica’s campaign, see this link.

To learn more about CalSERVE, see this link.

Here’s our interview:

Jackie: Tell me about where you grew up.

Juniperangelica: I grew up in El Monte and Azusa, California. They’re both in SoCal. I grew up there with my parents and my three sisters for the first half of my life. We grew up in a small apartment and played sports all weekend, so it was cute and stable. The second half of my life was more unstable after my parents, who became substance abusers, lost their jobs which led my family to become homeless. So in the eighth grade, we were homeless and we lived in different motels throughout the San Gabriel Valley, but I stayed at Azusa High School which was my only form of stability. So while my experiences growing up were all over the place, I did my best to find home, and I usually could find that in the streets of downtown LA throughout the fashion district.

Jackie: How would you describe your experience in education, and here at Cal so far?

Juniperangelica: I want to first share that education has always been my sanctuary. Throughout elementary and middle school, I was bullied so much for being queer, so I would find myself in the classroom where I felt safe with my teachers and where my passion for education grew. In high school, education became my sanctuary from homelessness. The more hours I spent on campus, the more I was able to avoid being in motels. Education has always been like my baby, my way out of poverty, my way out of being bullied, so I think my upbringing and instability of my life really taught me to learn about my power. I also think that being food insecure really taught me how to value, and I know it sounds cliche, but how to value life and happiness aside from material things.

I mean, material things do help us survive, like technology, like houses, but when we had nothing, like no food, nothing, I really valued my time with family and peacefulness and mindfulness. There are not many things to do when you’re sleeping in a park other than appreciate the earth.

Now that I have stability and have clothing for myself, I’m still able to prioritize my life and really appreciate what I have materialistically but should it all go away again, I know I’ll be fine and I know how to survive. And also being homeless for so long taught me how to survive on the streets, which also taught me how to survive in the institution. This is because while the streets and the institution may be very different worlds, they’re the same in that people in power try to knock me down and try to hurt me, but if I know myself and know what kinds of power I have, then no one can take that away from me.

My experience at Cal has been a learning moment. Yes, in the classroom (shoutout to Professor Laleh Behbehanian for her fucking amazing research and shared knowledge). But my experience in Berkeley has been only possible because of my community. The networks I’ve built have allowed me to survive, literally survive, and heal from my traumas. My first year as a transfer, I experienced massive depression and imposter syndrome. I’m still like, I’m the poor brown girl from Azusa, how the hell did I make it here? But I’m here. Berkeley has been a growing moment, especially in my advocacy.

Jackie: Could you describe in more detail what being homeless was like?

Juniperangelica: When we became homeless, I was in the eighth grade, and when my parents became unemployed, my Mom still received unemployment checks. We couldn’t afford to live in a house, so we lived in hotels, but the nicer hotels, so it was fun. It was like the Suite Life of Zack & Cody; we had a pool, it was great (smiles). But then after a few years, when the unemployment checks stopped and the hotels turned to shittier ones and food wasn’t guaranteed, that’s when I was like wow, we’re really in this.

I mean, it was hard. I think my coping mechanism was always like yes, your life is shitty, but think about what you can do in the future if you put in the hard work now. That’s why I got so involved in student government, joined every sport, every club thinking that if I strive for greatness, then I can escape poverty. That was my coping mechanism for all of high school. But there was a lot of trauma too, not only because of tension within my family but also the surrounding area and being a trans women who was expressive of that. I was always in danger, living in dangerous areas, so it was definitely difficult living with trauma and instability.

At the same time, around senior year of high school, I became open about being homeless. I realized that I could hide it and not get help, or I can be open and get help. And that’s where I understood the idea that different positions can help others, and that’s when I really got involved in student government. I have the time and capacity to help others, so why not do this?

Jackie: What positions did you hold in student government?

Juniperangelica: So I’ve been in student government since the third grade, but I didn’t hold a position until high school. In high school, I was in the leadership class and in senior year, I became ASB President. And I was running against the kid who was President of everything since forever, and I was the little queer kid who was like *fuck the cool kids!* (laughs) When I won that election, I understood my position in this world. I knew that I could build trust with those who aren’t usually represented in power, and then support the work from within the institution.

Since then, I’ve done that, I was on the City’s Human Relations commission and the schoolwide council, which is the equivalent of the Chancellor’s round table. And then, in community college, I also served on different positions as well. I was appointed as the commissioner of equity, as well as elected to the Citrus College Board of Trustees. I was then elected to the California Community College Board of Trustees. One student representing 2.3 million students. She did that!

Jackie: What was your experience as a senator this past year?

Juniperangelica: There were so many obstacles we had to face as a Senate class that we didn’t expect and had to take care of them, but that’s part of the game, you know? I think the most difficult part in Senate, however, was the working environment within the Senate class. I think the voices of Black and brown women were constantly being dismissed, so it was not just facing obstacles from the student body but also among my peers, but again, we, as women of color, weren’t new to this. Black and brown women know how to push back against leadership, so I thought to myself, let’s just move forward and push back. And that was great. That experience of working for community based projects that I know would immediately support students was great.

My Senate office participated in various projects from fundraising for scholarships to working on inner-campus policies. I also served on like a million committees, which was my favorite part. Campus committees is where the policy happens, the work happens, and that’s where the interaction between students and administrators is really open. That is where I’ve learned how to hold my own and make my words stick, no matter how powerful the person sitting across the table from me is.

Overall, it was stressful, but enjoyable, and productive, yeah. (laughs)

Jackie: Can you speak more to why you think your voice was being dismissed during your time as Senator?

Juniperangelica: I think it began with me and my peers nuancing the students’ perspectives on campus. Like really think about how these conversations are affecting students who have no voice on this campus. We hear the concept that this university wasn’t built for us, but it’s true. And we heard during Free Speech Week, black and brown students coming to us crying and saying they’re scared.

So me and my peers would challenge our senator peers to nuance and define what accessibility means, what safety means. I think it was easier for folks to dismiss us instead of really engaging in these conversations. A lot of the struggle I think in my perspective was really trying to get folks to complicate and problematize all these issues, and that’s what I feel elected officials should be doing for students. So a policy sounds great, cool. But how does it affect students who fall through the cracks? I mean, I really see my position as Senator, and hopefully as President, as putting myself on the line for students who don’t really have the capacity to do so. You know, I have the availability and desire to be that one who is constantly nuancing everything, to make sure our policies are really serving the entire student body and not just a select few.

Jackie: Why are you running for President?

Juniperangelica: I want to first say that I hear and I agree, the student government is a buffer between the administration and the students. You know, we are put between these constituencies, with different purposes. and The ASUC is expected to be the middle ground, which sometimes is diluted because we are used as the bargaining chip between the students and administrators. I want to acknowledge that change can happen without us because we’ve seen that, students organize and change happens.

With that, I do think having us in these positions can complement the work being done on the ground. And for that reason, I am running for President. I do believe that students need to have nuanced perspectives of social issues. I’m running for President because I think our students don’t always have the capacity to advocate for every issue, and that’s what I want my job to be. That’s what I have a passion for, that I’m constantly doing my best to make sure students are getting every ounce of support they need to excel on this campus.

I also think I have the experience to do so. My ability to lead the ASUC is pivotal and needed in this time of the student government, where so much is happening on campus and we need a leader who can think with a 10 year strategic plan and also what’s happening next week.

I am running for President because I did not get the support I needed to succeed in academia, but for some reason, I made it. I want to do everything I can to make sure students who are fortunate enough to make it to UC Berkeley have what it takes to make it past the graduation stage and onward to achieve further greatness.

Jackie: What is your leadership philosophy?

Juniperangelica: So on the side, I work at GSA Network and the Trans Law Center, and I work with high school and middle school trans youth who are getting into activism and social movements. Our philosophy is recognizing that people already have the power to make change.

All I’m really doing is giving them the resources to utilize their power and enact change. So, I really think my philosophy for leadership is very similar to that in that I’m not here to empower people or inspire people, but I’m here to give people the resources and the strategies to use the power they already have to enact change on this campus. And I think that that’s what the senators do, is enact change.

My job will be to make sure they have access to administrators to make their work come to fruition. I also think my leadership philosophy is trauma informed because my communities are trauma informed, my work has to be trauma informed and intersectional, making sure we are uplifting everyone because it’s not enough to have just one trans student in Senate, not enough to have just one Black student in Senate. You know, the Senate is not representative of the student body, and I don’t know if we can get to that point because we have limited seats. But what we can ensure is that our work and advocacy can represent the needs of every student, every year.

Jackie: In our time where our nation’s politically divided, how will you make sure everyone can feel included in the conversation even if their opinions may differ?

Juniperangelica: I think the powerful thing about Berkeley is that I think all students want to engage in conversation, but not all students want to have their existence questioned. I think my role as President is to facilitate that and facilitate political conversation but also make sure folks understand to respect the existence of everyone. Even people who I adamantly disagree with on a fundamental level, I can still have these conversations with them when they choose to not question my existence, and that’s what I think Berkeley is. The free speech movement gave us the ability to value conversation, now we must learn to value conversation, while also valuing each other's lives.

Jackie: How do you think RJ can help organizations on campus such as the ASUC resolve issues it faces?

Juniperangelica: I think RJ is one of the nuances within these conversations. It can be adapted to many issue areas, but I think it goes along with this idea that we shouldn’t be practicing disposability politics. When we value everyone’s existence, we require the accountability of everyone, so RJ really should be ingrained in everyone’s way of life. People mess up, but if we really value everyone’s existence, then we would want to help them build upward into society, together as a community.

*titles for identification purposes only*

Jackie Bueno is a senior at UC Berkeley studying Sociology. For further inquiries or if you would like to be featured, please contact her at jacquelinebueno@berkeley.edu.

Written by

RJ Center Staff

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